Tuesday, March 1, 2011

USS Gettysburg

Figure 1: Painting of USS Gettysburg by De Simone, depicting the ship underway in the Bay of Naples, Italy, in 1878. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: Ships of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron departing Hampton Roads, Virginia, en route to attack Fort Fisher, North Carolina, in December 1864. The ships present are (from left to right): a twin-turret monitor, probably USS Monadnock; USS New Ironsides; and an unidentified steam sloop of war. USS Gettysburg was part of this task force and actively participated in the assault on Fort Fisher. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: "The Bombardment of Fort Fisher, January 15, 1865." Engraving by T. Shussler, after an artwork by J.O. Davidson, published in "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War." It depicts ships of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron bombarding Fort Fisher, North Carolina, prior to the ground assault that captured the fortification. USS Gettysburg was part of this assault on Fort Fisher. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: “Bombardment of Fort Fisher, 15 January 1865.” Lithograph after a drawing by T.F. Laycock, published by Endicott & Co., New York, 1865, depicting the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron bombarding Fort Fisher, North Carolina, in preparation for its capture. USS Gettysburg was part of this assault force. The print is dedicated to Commodore S.W. Godon, USN. Ships present, as named on the original print, are identified in Photo Number LC-USZ62-144 (complete caption). Collections of the Library of Congress. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: “Capture of Fort Fisher, North Carolina, 15 January 1865.” Watercolor by eyewitness Ensign John W. Grattan, of Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter's staff, depicting Porter's fleet bombarding the fort prior to the ground assault. Side-wheel steamer in the right foreground is Porter's flagship, USS Malvern. USS New Ironsides and USS Monadnock are in the right distance. USS Gettysburg was part of Porter’s task force and assisted in the assault on Fort Fisher. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Grattan Collection. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

The 950-ton, iron side-wheel steamship Douglas was built at Glasgow, Scotland, in 1858 for use as a merchant ship. She was purchased by the Confederate Navy in November 1862 and was used as a blockade runner. Douglas arrived at Charleston, South Carolina, in late January 1863, completing her first voyage through the Union blockade. Shortly after her arrival, the ship was renamed Margaret and Jessie. The ship proved to be strong, fast, and an ideal blockade runner. For the next nine months, Margaret and Jessie made eight trips through the federal blockade and into Southern ports, five to Charleston and three to Wilmington, North Carolina. But while attempting to enter Wilmington on her ninth trip, the ship was captured by USS Nansemond and the US Army transport Fulton on 5 November 1863.

Later that month, the Confederate blockade runner was taken by the US Navy and converted into a gunboat at the New York Navy Yard. She was renamed USS Gettysburg and was commissioned on 2 May 1864. The ship was approximately 221 feet long and 26 feet wide, had a top speed of 15 knots, and had a crew of 96 officers and men. Gettysburg was armed with one 30-pounder Parrott gun, two 12-pounders, and four 24-pounders. Gettysburg was immediately sent back off the southern coastline, only this time she was being used to enforce the Union blockade of the Confederate states. During 1864, Gettysburg captured three Confederate steamers that were trying to bring desperately needed supplies to the starving southern states. The new Union gunboat captured Little Ada on 9 July 1864, Lilian on 24 August, and Armstrong on 4 December.

Then on 24 to 25 December 1864, Gettysburg participated in Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter's giant Union naval assault on the Confederate stronghold of Fort Fisher, located at the entrance to the port of Wilmington. Gettysburg was part of the massive bombardment (made up of approximately 60 warships) of the fort prior to the landings made by federal Army troops. During the actual landings by those troops, Gettysburg remained close to shore and provided cannon fire support for the assault. Gettysburg’s boats were also used to help transport troops to the beaches.

But the first assault on Fort Fisher was a failure. After that, plans were made for a second assault, this time including a landing force of sailors and Marines from the Union warships who volunteered for a bloody frontal assault against the formidable Confederate stronghold. The second attack took place on 15 January 1865, with all of the warships off the coast, including Gettysburg, providing cover fire for the Union landing. Gettysburg’s captain, Lieutenant Roswell H. Lamson, along with a group of officers and men from the gunboat, volunteered as part of the landing force that was attacking the fort. Once they made it to shore under a hail of Confederate gunfire, Lamson and what was left of his men were stopped underneath the very ramparts of Fort Fisher. Lamson and his men were forced to spend the night in a ditch underneath the Confederate guns before they could escape the next day. Although the frontal assault made by the sailors and Marines failed to take Fort Fisher, the attack diverted enough attention from the Confederates to allow the simultaneous assault made by Union Army troops to succeed. Fort Fisher fell, although the Union side suffered well over 1,500 casualties during the battle. Gettysburg’s small crew lost two men killed and six men wounded during the land assault on Fort Fisher.

After the Battle of Fort Fisher, Gettysburg was used as a transport along the Atlantic coast until she was decommissioned on 23 June 1865. Gettysburg was re-commissioned on 3 December 1866. She made a brief visit to the Caribbean, but then was decommissioned once again on 1 March 1867. The ship was re-commissioned on 3 March 1868 and sent back to the Caribbean to do some scientific research and to protect American interests in the area. Gettysburg was again out of commission from October 1869 to November 1873, after which her next period of activity included transport duty along the Atlantic coast. From February to May 1874, she also supported a survey of possible inter-oceanic canal routes across Central America, a program that would eventually lead to the building of the Panama Canal.

Gettysburg was again out of commission from April to September 1875, but was re-commissioned and assigned to complete some navigational surveys in the West Indies towards the end of 1875 and during the first few months of 1876. After an overhaul back in the United States, Gettysburg was sent to the Mediterranean in October 1876 for more survey duty. For the next two years, the ship visited nearly every port in the Mediterranean, taking soundings and surveys on the southern coast of France, the entire coastline of Italy, and the Adriatic Islands. Gettysburg continued her work along the coasts of Turkey, Egypt, and the rest of North Africa, as well as Sicily and Sardinia. But the ship was almost worn out. Her iron plates were corroded after years of almost constant use and her engines were old and in poor condition. So USS Gettysburg was decommissioned for the last time on 6 May 1879 and was sold in Genoa, Italy, two days later, never to see the United States again.